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The Link Between Bamidbar And Shavuot

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This week’s parshah, Bamidbar, is read prior to the Shavuot holiday. Rabbi Isaiah Halevy Horowitz suggests that this Torah reading teaches us important lessons about the holiday.

Bamidbar presents the names and leaders of each of the tribes of Israel. It can be suggested that the delineation of the leaders of each tribe is linked to Shavuot as it promotes the idea that the heads of the community should be paragons or teachers of Torah.

The parshah also describes the way the Jews encamped around the Tabernacle. Rav Umberto Cassuto echoes the similarity to Shavuot as he calls the Tabernacle a “mini-Sinai.” We simulated Sinai as we wandered through the desert, constantly reliving the experience of revelation.

Bamidbar begins by telling us that God spoke to Moshe in the Sinai desert. Rabbi Nachman Cohen in A Time for All Things maintains that the confluence of Bamidbar and Shavuot is “to underscore the great significance of the Torah having been given in the desert – no man’s land.”

Rabbi Cohen points out that the location of the vast expanse of the wilderness is significant for it teaches us that the Torah is not “the exclusive property of given individuals.” Living a desert existence makes us feel vulnerable. The fact that the Torah was given in the desert also teaches that “Torah can only be acquired if a person humbles himself.”

My colleague Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky inspired another idea. Perhaps the key relationship between Bamidbar and Shavuot is “counting.” Not only does our portion deal with the census – the counting – of the Jewish people, but the Torah, when mentioning Shavuot, stresses the counting of days between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot. In the words of the Torah, “seven weeks shall you count” (Leviticus, 23:15). This teaches that as important as the holiday of Shavuot may be, equally important is the count toward the holiday.

An important lesson emerges. Whenever we are engaged in a particular project, whether working toward a professional goal or striving to achieve in our personal lives, it is important to reflect and to evaluate how much time has already been spent on the endeavor and how much is still required to achieve its realization.

Evaluating forces us to consider the gift of every moment we have. Rabbi Joseph Lookstein points out that we must not only realize what the years have done to us but what we have done with our years.

Hence the confluence of Bamidbar and Shavuot. In the words of the Psalmist, “Teach us to number our days” (Psalms, 90:12). Bamidbar teaches the significance of each person and Shavuot teaches the importance of every moment for the individual.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.

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